SPECIAL FEATURE: MUSLIMS & THE MEDIA

At the annual gala dinner of the Canadian Islamic Congress


OTTAWA (1 Nov 2006) - TWO NOVA SCOTIANS were amongst 14 Canadians to receive awards last night in six categories of excellence from the Canadian Islamic Congress. The awards to Dr Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada Palestine Association, and Tony Seed, editor/publisher of shunpiking magazine, were presented at CIC's annual Ottawa Gala Dinner, held to celebrate the political, artistic, social and humanitarian achievements of the Muslim community in Canada.

Invited guests at the October 30 event, held in the West Block of the Parliament Buildings, included community activists and Muslim delegates from across Canada, politicians, senior government officials, members of both the Senate and House of Commons, Ambassadors of Muslim countries to Canada, as well as professionals and business leaders from across Canada.

Attacks on Muslims and those of Arabic origin formed one theme of the evening's discourse. Representatives of the Conservative, Liberal and NDP political parties addressed the pre-banquet reception, mainly advocating, in the words of interim Liberal leader Bill Graham, a society based on "tolerance" and reaching out to "the other." He did not explain why there is a lack of "tolerance", the role of the state, how "the other" has been created, or why such discrimination - as exemplified most recently in the Mahar Arar case, amongst others - is treated with impunity.

Dr MohamedElmasry
Canada's participation in the NATO war of occupation and aggression in Afghanistan also formed a prominent theme of the day's discourse, following on the heels of a weekend of broad demonstrations by Canadians from Halifax to Victoria demanding Canada's military withdrawal. The CIC was one of four organizations calling for the national day of action on October 28th.

CIC president Dr Mohamed Elmasry said, "The original mission spoke of three D's in the mission - defence, development, and diplomacy - but the last two D's are missing. Development right now is given only 10 per cent of the military budget, and diplomacy, as we know, is almost a zero effort."

"The conflict of Afghanistan is not a religious conflict, it is a political conflict and Canada can play a leading role in calling for a peace conference," he said.

Conservative MP Rahem Jaffer, who is Muslim, countered with a promotion of the Harper government's donation of $30 million to the Aga Khan Foundation to develop an Eurocentric "Global Centre for Pluralism", announced on October 25th by Prime Minister Harper and the Aga Khan. The initial investment by the Aga Khan Development Network is to be $40 million.

It was an odd, self congratulatory reply to criticism of government policy towards Muslims or towards Islamic countries such as Afghanistan. I was to discover later that this Centre is to be based in ... Ottawa of all places. It is being formed to export assimilationist strategies of pluralism, multiculturalism and NGO collaboration aimed at Islamic and Arabic states, based on the model of the Canadian state or the European nation state model as superior states. Such an approach is cultural-political imperialism that is responsible for the injustice and oppression both of the past and the present.

Jaffer also sidestepped the Arar case as well as the announcement earlier that day of $203 million in "previously unanticipated" military spending in Afghanistan by the Harper government due to increased Afghan resistance.

The Conservative and Liberal representatives then made an unseemly exit, pleading other engagements, rather than spending an evening participating and listening to the views of the Muslim community at an important, once-a-year event.

The CIC also invited the family and friends of Capt. Nicola K Goddard, a member of the Canadian Forces killed in Afghanistan this past spring, to kick off its Scholarship in Peace and Conflict Studies which they have named after the soldier. It was awarded to Ahmad Syed, a 27-year-old Master's student in Globalization and International Development at the University of Ottawa. Through his ongoing studies, Mr. Syed hopes to contribute to knowledge of the underlying causes of conflict, and to increase understanding of how such conflicts might be resolved or, more importantly, be avoided.

Throughout the dinner lively discussion ensured at many tables in the dining room on the challenges faced by and contributions made by the Muslim community across Canada. One theme for CIC's 2006 Gala was to honour Canada's Muslim dentists for their diverse and innovative contributions to this country. One of the memorable features enhancing the cultured ambiance of the evening was acclaimed musician Dr George Sawa, a professor of music at the University of Toronto, who entertained the guests by performing beautiful classic Muslim music on his qanoun - a multi-stringed instrument of the dulcimer family that originated in ancient Persia. We spoke briefly at the end of the dinner. Dr Sawa is having a new CD released of his music in the near future, which I recommend highly.

The keynote dinner speeches were given by Mrs Wahida Valiante, CIC's national vice-president and editor of the Friday Magazine, and Tony Seed of shunpiking magazine on the theme, "Muslims and the Media." Both interventions (reproduced in full on this website) were widely appreciated and warmly applauded.

MC of the event was Dr. Taufik Valiante, director of the surgical epilepsy program at Toronto Western Hospital.

Discussion with journalists

At our table, I discussed over dinner with several Muslim journalists and colleagues in an open and sincere manner about all aspects of media coverage, from an attitude of learning more about their conditions and perspectives.

The monopolization of the Canadian media was one concern, as exemplified by the CanWest Global media conglomerate: it is intensifying a homogenous, top-down editorial outlook, and eliminating columns from the individual city dailies.

This further impels the necessity to create space. The demands on Muslim journalists are very high. Laith Alhamdany and Ziyad Ali, of the monthly Al-Bilad newspaper in London, Ontario which serves a 20,000-member Arabic community, explained how they surmount the difficulties and challenges involved in independent publishing. Laith and Ziyad, both of whom are experienced newsmen, work at day jobs in order to sustain their community newspaper, Despite their heavy work load, they walked home with a CIC community media award of excellence. Like all independent journalists, it is a matter of great pride when one's work is acknowledged.

The journalists gave different examples from life to illustrate how pressure is being put on people of both Islamic and non-Islamic belief by shrouding in great mystery what Islam is and what problems it faces, as well as the prejudices disseminated by the news media to marginalize them, and the stands taken to defend the community.

One of the recurring themes, I learned, is for the media to repeatedly insinuate that the relationship between the iman (leader or cleric) and the believer is one of control, befitting Islam's allegedly inherent tendency to medievalism and oppression, which is not the case at all. "Everyone in the mosque is free to speak out, free to criticize," Yahya Abdul Rahman, editor of Montreal Muslim News, informed me. "In the mosque we are equals."

The government with the complicity of some media was pursuing a divide-and-conquer policy, they said, with the demand that Canadian Muslims must prove to it their so-called "moderation." To implement this disinformation, CSIS-RCMP and various media such as Zone Libre in Qu?bec have sent "moles" to infiltrate into the mosque to manufacture sensationalist reports to inflame public opinion; on the other hand, a handful of imans justify working with the state in these deception operations, thinking that they had to prove how "moderate" they were. How convenient! "The government then replies, we're not targeting the community, we have people in the community working for us!," the journalists explained. Lowering the level of political and religious culture is unacceptable, they stressed: no Muslim, no Canadian, can spy on one another.

Far from being apologetic, pessimistic or defensive, they vigorously condemned such attempts to criminalize conscience as a violation of the rights of all Canadians. I can also confirm their own optimism, confidence and conviction in their faith, identity and the cause of justice.

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CIC 2006 Awards of Excellence

Also on the program were a number of major presentations to Canadians in recognition of the excellence of their work. The Canadian Islamic Congress 2006 Media Award -- to honour a Canadian journalist for promoting fairness and balance was awarded to Tony Seed of Halifax, the publisher/editor of Shunpiking Magazine.

The CIC Community Media Award -- to honour a Canadian journalist for outstanding professional service to the Muslim community -- was awarded to Feyoun Khan, with Al-Ameen newspaper, Vancouver; Hussein Hoballah and Tarek Nasser of Sada Al Masheric, a Montreal-based newspaper published in three languages (Arabic, French and English); and Laith Alhamdany and Ziyad Ali, both of the monthly Al-Bilad newspaper in London, Ontario.

The CIC Lifelong Community Service Award -- recognizing dedicated lifelong service to the Canadian Muslim community -- was awarded to Abdul Salam Elmenyawi and Dr. Bashar El Solh, both of Montreal, Aziz Khaki of Vancouver, and Dr. Ismail Zayid of Halifax. president of the Canada Palestine Association.

The CIC Youth Community Service Award -- honouring a young adult who has given exceptional service to the Canadian Muslim community -- was awarded to Afnan Al-Hashimi, 15, a Grade 10 student from Toronto and a very well-spoken youth. Afnan addressed the dinner gathering, explaining her work amongst peace-loving students, including her preparation of a video as an educational tool.

The London Mosque and the Islamic Centre of Southwestern Ontario, also in London, were both honoured with the User-Friendly Mosque Award, recognizing a Canadian mosque / masjid for its user-friendly architectural design, welcoming attitude, and inclusive inter-generational programs, especially those focused on women, children and youth.

Zeba Hashmi of Winnipeg was recognized for her work in film with the CIC Islamic Arts and Literature Award.

- Tony Seed




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